A Long Wait But What Now?
The country - if not the whole nation - observed its Constitution Day yesterday (Tuesday). Just the day before on Monday, the third and final phase of the local elections were concluded in Province No. 2. The long wait of two decades for local elections meant a lot of mess and undesirable experiences allegedly guided by corruption at the local level. In the absence of elected representatives, the people have no one to turn to when it comes to problems and issues in their localities.
It is mostly the government officials who decide what is to be done either on their own or under pressure from political leaders; in both cases they allegedly cater to those who fill their personal or party coffers at the cost of the people’s and locality’s needs. The local elections at least pave the way for the people to ask and hold their representatives for works well done and for work badly done. In both cases, it is the people’s representatives who are responsible and accountable.
The local polls in this country began in May this year and it took four months to complete the elections. It is a wonder of wonders that at least elections were completed which would have taken not more than a couple of days to complete in developed countries. The local elections enable over 750 local level units to carry out their totally people oriented duties. It must be emphasised that no matter who is elected from which party, the elected persons must rise above narrow politics and take a much broader view and serve the people sincerely by undertaking projects and works that benefit the most people. This can only happen when elected local representatives can look beyond the party lines and cut across the political ideological boundary to undertake activities that benefit the majority of the people.
It must not be forgotten by the elected representatives that the people voted for them because they seen them - rather than the political parties they represent - as suitable persons to ensure that the localities and areas they represent will benefit the most in areas such as roads, sewage system and proper allocation of areas for such activities as outdoor sports, dance bars and drinking joints so that they do not disturb the normal life of the people. In addition, in times of needs and critical periods, the people’s local representatives must be able to ensure smooth flow of essential supplies to the people at lowest possible price. In short, the main goal of the local bodies - especially now that more powers are given to them by the constitution - is to provide best possible living environment to the people.
In six yet to be named provinces, the local polls were held almost three months ago. Except in a few rare cases, the local bodies have been able to do little or nothing so far. Some people have gone to their local representatives to voice their complaints but all such complaints and legitimate requests fall on deaf ears. One of the factors for the inability of the local representatives to do anything meaningful is the attitude of the government officials who tend to be guided by the old style of governance and tend to believe that no matter how many elections are held, the decisions of the government officials are still final. The devolution of power as fittingly envisaged in the constitution seems to be nothing more than an illusion. And this will continue to be so for some time to come until proper laws are enacted and local bodies are allowed to take independent decisions.
Perhaps to some extent, the mass media too is to blame for the present state of affairs as the media seem to be under the impression that political parties alone truly represent the people. The fact is one may vote for one party but it is not necessary that the same person agrees with all that the particular party stands for. In many cases, in countries like Nepal many vote for a particular party simply because he or she has been doing so in the past or because his or her family members in the past voted for such and such party. This may be alright when it comes to national and provincial elections but for local elections, a candidate’s capability, aside from his party affiliation, needs to be taken in due consideration.
Win the trust
Political parties as well as those elected to local bodies face special duty to ensure that the confidence of the people in the new constitution remains intact. Many people see the present leaders as those who talk and promise much but deliver little or nothing. This way it will not take long to erode confidence in the constitution. Those elected to the local bodies have a special responsibility to ensure that they win the people’s faith and trust in the present system of governance by making sure that they devote themselves to the people’s welfare by creating or expanding necessary infrastructures like roads, free public toilets, proper sewerage system, good public schools, proper playgrounds for the children and youths, adequate open space in each wards in urban areas.
There was a long wait between the first and the last phase of local elections but now that local elections are over all over the country, what can we expect from the local governments? One can only hope that the local governments live up to the people’s expectations.